Westridge’s English Department Hosts Its 7th Annual All-School Read


Hannah W.

Saba K. ’25 and Reema R. ’23 read “Gate A-4” at the assembly.

This year, the Middle Eastern, North African Affinity, also known as the MENA Affinity, hosted the 2023 All-School Read Assembly, guiding the school through Naomi Shihab Nye’s poem, “Gate A-4”

The poem reflects upon Nye’s personal experience of helping an older Palestinian woman during a flight delay at Albuquerque Airport. It portrays themes of connection, cultural embrace, and the power of kindness through the metaphor of traditional Arab mamool cookies

The assembly acknowledged the historical context of this poem, which takes place less than 10 years after the 9/11 attacks. 

The MENA Affinity gave a deep dive into the poem. (Hannah W.)

“This is especially significant, as the event raises suspicions and fear at airports especially directed toward people who are Muslim, or visibly Middle Eastern,” Noa K. ’24, one of the MENA Affinity heads, said in the assembly. “The poet finds hope when the people at the airport join together and eat cookies, despite the distress, discomfort, and lack of trust in a post-9/11 world.”

After reading the poem, many upper schoolers believed that it lacked nuance. “I remember when I first read this poem, I thought, ‘Is this all?’ I was trying to find a deeper meaning within the poem, but I guess the poem wasn’t really built for that,” Alyssa C. ’23 said. 

However, many felt that the simplicity made it a good fit for the All-School Read as it was approachable for all grade levels. 

“What really makes [the poem] important is the simplicity of the language used in the poem,” Jaime R. ’23 said in the assembly. “Poetry can often be a very exclusive club, where you have to know everything in order to be able to join. And the fact that this language is so simple and can appeal to everyone from ages nine to 18 really shows how much thought and effort the author put into this idea of connection.” 

To conclude the assembly, the MENA Affinity provided mamool cookies for everyone to try. “Providing the mamool cookies for the whole school was a nice finishing touch to the assembly,” Lauren W. ’26 said. “I was able to physically taste what the narrator described, and I think I was able to hold a stronger connection to the poem and the narrator.”

Ultimately, the students not only left the assembly with a mamool cookie but also with a sense of the power of literature and its ability to connect the Westridge community. “We all read the same poem, but in so many ways, because of how we interpret it and because of our life experiences, we didn’t,” Upper School English teacher Ms. Katie Wei said, presenting at the assembly on behalf of Ms. Tarra Stevenson, the current Upper School English Department chair. “The words become a magical living thing.”